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NIH Grantees Awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for Brain Research

For release: Monday, October 9, 2000

Bethesda, Maryland — Long-time National Institutes of Health grantees Dr. Eric R. Kandel and Dr. Paul Greengard were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries in signal transduction in the nervous system. Together their work has improved treatments for Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and depression and holds promise for the improvement of memory in various types of dementia.

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden announced the prizes this morning. Dr. Kandel of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University in New York, and Dr. Greengard of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Science at Rockefeller University in New York received the award jointly with Dr. Arvid Carlsson of the University of Gothenburg.

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, Principal Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, congratulated the scientists and said, "This work is very important in understanding how the more than hundred billion nerve cells in the brain communicate. I am proud that NIH has provided long-term and consistent support, to these fine scientists over decades. I would add that because of the breadth and depth of his research, Dr. Eric Kandel was a valued advisor to the NIH Director from 1995 through 1999."

The National Institute of Mental Health has provided over thirty years of research support to Drs. Kandel and Greengard. Support has also been provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Dr. Steven E. Hyman, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health said, "All three of these investigators, in different ways, have put the basic science underlying mental illness and its treatment on a new sound footing. Throughout our current grant portfolio scientists have used their discoveries as the platform to make exciting new advances. This recognition highlights the vitality of the science of the functioning of the brain and increases the excitement and possibility of the science of mental health. These Nobel Prizes hearten us as we contend with the most interesting, but the most difficult research problems facing scientists."

"I am delighted that three neuroscientists have been recognized this year for their seminal contributions to our understanding of how signals are communicated between nerve cells," said Dr. Story Landis, Director of Intramural Research for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Each has provided an essential link in establishing the cascade of biochemical reactions within nerve cells by which neurotransmitters alter nervous system function. Further, their studies clearly establish the relationship between molecules and behavior. This adds up to tremendous leaps in our understanding of how the human mind learns and remembers, paving the way to advances in treating a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders."

Dr. Kandel, who is a member of the NIH Executive Committee planning next year's celebration of 50 years of brain research in the United States, receives the prize for his elucidating research on the functional modification of synapses in the brain. Initially using the sea slug as an experimental model but later working with mice, Dr. Kandel has established that the formation of memories is a consequence of short and long-term changes in the biochemistry of nerve cells. Further, he and his colleagues have shown that these changes occur at the level of synapses, individual contacts between nerve cells.

Dr. Greengard was recognized for his discovery that dopamine and a number of other transmitters can alter the functional state of neuronal proteins. These findings made it clear that signaling between neurons could alter their function not only in the short term but also in the long term. Also, he learned, such changes could be reversed by subsequent environmental signals.

Dr. Carlsson identified dopamine as a neurotransmitter and established that decreases in the function of dopamine could explain the deficits in Parkinson's disease. Dopamine was subsequently recognized as having a role in psychiatric as well as neurological diseases. Apart from the treatment of Parkinson's disease, Dr. Carlsson's research has increased the understanding of the mechanisms of several other drugs. His work showed that antipsychotic drugs, most used against schizophrenia, affect synaptic transmission by blocking dopamine receptors. His work has also had great significance for the treatment of depression and has contributed to the development of selective serotonin uptake blockers, a new generation of antidepressant drugs.

Of the 78 American Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine since 1945, three-fourths — a total of 59 — either have worked at or were supported by NIH before winning the prize. During the same period, 120 scientists worldwide have received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, more than half of whom — 67 — had prior support from or worked at the NIH before the honor.

Reporters: for more information, contact Marc Stern, NIH News Office, (301) 496-2535 .

Last Modified August 7, 2009